Peter Caty/The Mirror

Heading into this season, the Fairfield University Men’s Basketball team had high aspirations and expectations alike; win the MAAC conference tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade.

At the midway point of the season, the Stags are in prime position to accomplish both of those goals.  As of printing time, the Stags boasted a 13-4 record overall, with a MAAC conference record of 6-1.  The team was able to enjoy an 11-game win streak until a one point loss on the road to Loyola halted the remarkable run last week.

While all Stags were enjoying their winter breaks at home, the Men’s basketball team spent the majority of theirs both on campus and traveling throughout the east coast, taking on teams from several different conferences.  All games, other than the away contest at Loyola, resulted in a victory.

Throughout this impressive run, the team has been able to enjoy a slew of noteworthy performances, both individually and as a whole.

During finals week, Fairfield was able to hold off rival Holy Cross by a score of 71-60.  Ryan Olander ’12 highlighted the effort with a double-double consisting of 17 points and 10 rebounds.

A few days later, the Stags were able to validate their win with another over respected out-of-conference foe, Vermont.  Olander, Derek Needham ’13, and Warren Edney ’11 tallied 15 points apiece in a 67-59 triumph.

The low-points of the break both happened to occur nowhere near a hardwood floor.  First, Greg Nero ’11 suffered another setback in his ongoing battle with mono and his status for the rest of the season is in jeopardy.  Nero’s determination to overcome this illness over the last several years should be commended, regardless of whether he steps on the court again this season.

Next, the Stags were slated to travel to the University of Florida on Dec. 28 for a nationally televised matchup.  The school was reportedly going to make $80,000 to be used towards Ed Cooley’s salary and to bolster the recruiting budget.

However, a massive snowstorm stranded the stags in Connecticut, and the game was called off without a replay.  Coach Cooley expressed his profound frustration at the time, noting that several alternate travel arrangements were considered, but in the end there was no way to get down to Florida.

However, the team came home for two victories over Army (68-61) on New Year’s Eve, and Niagara (70-48) on Jan. 3.  Freshman forward Maurice Barrow, the reigning MAAC Rookie of the Week, began to assert himself with some impact performances.

As the New Year rolled along, so did the Stags – in the form of blowout MAAC victories over Marist and Saint Peter’s.  The winning streak stood at 11, a seemingly arduous task given the multiple setbacks experienced over the winter break.

Fairfield then traveled to bitter rival, Loyola, for a conference contest on Jan. 14.  A hard fought game saw the Stags long winning streak snapped by a single point, 66-65.  Needham led the charge with 14 points while Barrow contributed 13 points and 5 rebounds.

The Stags got back on track right away with a tough 65-57 road victory over the Rider Broncs on Monday, Jan. 17.  Needham had a breakout game with 27 points and 5 assists, including 6 three-pointers.

As things stand now, the Stags are well on their way to a sustained postseason run in the MAAC.  However, the team needs to stay healthy and maintain the consistency of playing at a high level night in and night out.

Tough tests await the Stags with contests against Siena, Iona, and an ESPN Bracketbuster game in February.

The team needs the support of the student body in order to reach its goals this season.  The players and coaches dedicate a large part of their years to making these goals a reality – they deserve our support at the games.

Cooley, Needham, Hawkins and the rest of the program have repeatedly said in the past that the team plays its best basketball when there is a strong showing from the Fairfield student section.  This is a great time to jump on board – the Stags are one of the favorites to win the conference this year and bring in several transfers and highly touted recruits next year in a team that is going to be scary good.

Take a few hours out of your week to take in a new era of Stags basketball – the Ed Cooley era.

Fairfield next takes the court Friday night at Canisius.  Game time is slated for 7:00 p.m.

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